Prose and Kohn: Ryan Kohn
If the parking lot is any indication, I thought to myself, the third-annual IVP by Figo7 youth soccer tournament at Premier Sports Campus had made quite a jump in size.
Turns out, I was right. The event, held Oct. 27-28, hosted 225 teams. When the tournament began in 2016, it had 110. Premier Sports Campus director Antonio Saviano said he has been thrilled with the event’s direction.
“The community loves it,” Saviano said. “It brings so much to the area financially, with hotels and restaurants, and the competition is really good. It is not your typical weekend tournament competition.”
Saviano is right. IVP by Figo7 invites the best teams from around the state, as well as teams from neighboring Caribbean countries. That includes the Lakewood Ranch Chargers, who use Premier as their home base.
Part of the reason IVP by Figo7 launched was to make money, sure. The other goal was to raise the talent level of soccer players in the United States. To start a development pipeline that eventually would lead to the U.S. competing for gold medals against European and South American teams.
Remember how we did at this summer’s World Cup in Russia? Neither do I, because we did not even qualify.
To get started down that path, the tournament flew in scouts from Spanish professional team Levante UD’s organization, which includes youth and teen teams, to evaluate both players and coaches. The player they deem the “MVPs” from the U14, U15, U16, and U17 divisions will get to train with Levante UD’s professional team for a week, all expenses paid. Levante UD will offer the same chance to the top overall coach (all divisions).
It is an opportunity for players and coaches to learn from actual pros, something scouts believe is a desperate need if the U.S. is going to ever be competitive. One Levante UD scout, Miguel Faverola, was kind enough to share his thoughts on what he saw. There was talent at the IVP by Figo7 tournament, he said, but most of it was found in the younger players.
“The U8, U9, U10 players, they are similar to Spain (in potential),” Faverola said. “But the older players, in Spain, they rate as a nine or 10 in talent. Here, it is like a four.”
Faverola said the dissipation of talent is rooted in poor coaching. In Spain, he said, youth coaches have three levels of certification to achieve, and each level takes a year of schooling to reach. In America, coaches are often the parent of someone on the team, and certification can be reached in a weekend.
They simply do not know enough about the game to help players unlock their potential. That is why the Levante UD trips for the MVPs and coaches are so important. They get to see what real training sessions and real game-planning looks like. Then they can bring that knowledge back and spread it.
It is going to take time, but as IVP by Figo7 grows, the timeline shrinks. The company also hosted events in Doral and Las Vegas this year, and has one in Lancaster, Calif., in November.
We already know the development in Lakewood Ranch will continue. Saviano said the tournament has already signed on for next year (Oct. 26-27, 2019) and that this year’s tournament used 29 of the facility’s 34 fields, meaning there are five more it could use if necessary. And, as another notch in Premier’s belt, Faverola said the organization of the tournament was better than any he has attended in Spain. There is no reason to think the partnership will not continue for years to come.
So far, the Figo experiment has been an unmitigated success financially. Now it is time to accomplish its other goal, and help the area (and the U.S.) catch up with the rest of the soccer world. The bigger this tournament gets, the more money IVP by Figo7 will have to bring players and coaches to Europe, and the sooner the U.S. soccer talent pool will hopefully see dividends.